A bow is a great weapon for a movie hero to wield. It connects them to warriors throughout time and allows them to take advantage of a bow’s stealth and accuracy (in the right and experienced hands), the same reasons hunters value them today. While most movie actors who shoot bows on screen don’t have great form, don’t look at the sights, and have no idea what an anchor point is, we shouldn’t let that take away from the enjoyment of a truly badass archery scene.
But hey, sometimes the actors do get it pretty close to right. Here are some of the best archery scenes of all time from the big screen:
10. Blade Trinity (2004): Jessica Biel’s Super Bow
Directed by: David S. Goyer
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds
The archery scenes in this overall mediocre techno-action-horror movie are very comic book-y and not based in reality or physics at all, but it is a comic book movie and it came up with the idea of a high-tech compound bow that could fire all kinds of neat projectiles many years before the Marvel movies gave us sort of the same thing with Hawkeye.
This time around, half-vampire Blade (Snipes) goes up against none other than Dracula himself and his vampire minions, but this time, he has help from a group of young vampire hunters who embrace technology and weapons Blade has never really considered.
Abigail Whistler (Biel) is the leader of the group, and her weapon of choice is a real-world Archery Research AR34 compound bow. As a prop, the bow has the ability to fold up into a compact package that Whistler carries in a holster on her thigh. She can quickly deploy the bow with one hand on the draw as it springs into form, her hand already on the grip.
Between making battle playlists for her iPod, we see her practicing with her bow in the HQ, shooting at targets through a digital chronograph.
The arrows she uses have a bunch of wild abilities. The most absurd is one that somehow drills its way through a metal door to kill a vamp on the other side. She has another that lets her shoot around corners. During the final battle with Dracula, Whistler fires an arrow tipped with a special injector holding a virus, the only way to kill the ancient vampire. Unfortunately, Dracula catches it and throws it to the ground, but when he turns his attention back to Blade, Whistler fires a quick follow-up arrow into Drac’s back, giving Blade enough time to grab the virus arrow and shove it into Dracula’s chest.
It might not seem like it today in a post-Hunger Games, Brave, and Avengers world, but in 2004, seeing a badass woman owning vamps with a modern (at the time) compound bow was really awesome to see and actually kind of original — or at least different.
Fun fact: The athletic Biel trained hard and did all the archery work herself in the movie and reportedly got quite good. For one shot, she was supposed to fire an arrow at the camera. Everything was blocked off with plexiglass other than a 2-by-2-inch opening for the camera to film through. Biel’s arrow hit the bull’s-eye, so to speak, going through the small opening and destroying a $300,000 camera on the other side.
9. The Monster Squad (1987): Battling the Brides of Dracula With a Compound Bow
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan
This is one for the ’80s kids out there. The Monster Squad is a fantastic monster movie. It began as a way to reboot the classic Universal monsters from the ’30s and ’40s — you know, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy — with creature designs that harked back to the originals. But things got weird with Universal Studios and they ended up making the movie with a different company and couldn’t use the original creature designs. However, it’s still great with new designs provided by Rick Baker.
Long and short, a group of middle schoolers and one junior high kid realize their suburban town is being plagued by monsters who want to cast a spell with a magic amulet to give rise to the forces of darkness, and they’re the only ones who can stop them.
Rudy, the junior high kid, steals a bow and quiver from an archery range, which happens to be the “Rambo” model that Hoyt sold after it made such a big splash in the second Rambo movie. You can see a piece of the Rambo logo on the limbs in some scenes.
When the Mummy jumps on their moving truck, Rudy uses one of his arrows to pin the end of his bandages to a tree, and the dusty bastard literally unravels, leaving just an old skull.
Later, Rudy faces off against Dracula’s brides and uses his bow to fire homemade wooden stakes, which fly surprisingly straight and far considering they’re sharpened 1-inch wooden dowels with no fletching that he made in shop class, but the coolness outweighs the bad aerodynamics.
“Where you goin’, Rudy?!”
Rudy strides off to face the vampires with his bow.
“I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”
Baller. And also, big props to Rudy’s school, whose shop class apparently includes everything he needs to make silver bullets from silverware and load them in .38 Special rounds.
8. Predator (1987): Arnold’s Bundle Bow and 40mm Grenade Arrow
Directed by: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Peter Hall, Carl Weathers
Arnold spends much of this movie getting his ass kicked, not something we were used to seeing at the time. His whole team of commandos is slowly decimated by an extraterrestrial hunter, until he’s alone in the jungle with the alien creature, a knife, and a couple of 40mm grenades.
He prepares some primitive weapons, including a couple of spears, using his knife as a spearhead once he’s done with it, and a bow, which he creates from a tightly tied and bent bundle of thin branches.
This is actually a method for creating a relatively quick and dirty survival bow called a bundle bow. The idea is, instead of carving down a single piece of wood to create a bow, you’re strapping together a number of smaller pieces of wood to build up a bow — it still has a thicker, stiffer middle that tapers toward the tips.
Typically, a bundle bow is made of three or four pieces of long, straight, shootlike material tied together and strung, which is exactly what we see Dutch do in the movie during his preparation montage before the final face-off, though he ties together what looks like 50 pieces of wood to build his bow, so many that it’s too wide to grip and has a built-in handle. To string it, he has to bend the bundle over his giant shoulders in a super unnecessary flexing scene. After all, the thing does have to fire an arrow with a 40 mm grenade on it.
It pays off, because a test shot is able to, somehow, drive a wooden arrow with (we assume) a knapped stone arrowhead right through the trunk of a live tree. I don’t think my crossbow can do that, but let’s just accept it and go.
Dutch scores his first real hit and damage against the creature with the primitive bow. Confusing the alien’s heat vision with a large bonfire and a coating of mud all over his bod, Dutch takes up position in a tree, “Like a hunter,” and fires a special arrow with an exploding head fashioned from one of his 40 mm grenades. While not a direct hit, the arrow explodes at the creature’s feet, injuring him a bit, and messing up the tech that allows him to camouflage. Dutch has to hastily reposition and loses the bow when he jumps from the tree under withering fire, but it served its purpose, and it’s the only time I know of that a bundle bow has been depicted in a movie.
7. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985): Death by Explosive Arrow
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Julia Nickson
John Rambo (Stallone) helped make bows popular and intriguing again among general audiences of the 1980s with the mammoth hit sequel to First Blood. The second time around, the character uses what is portrayed as a takedown compound bow that can be stowed in a long shoulder bag and assembled, in the dark, with nothing more than a hex wrench. Plus, he has a few special arrowheads along in his kit that are packed with C4; the tip is a plunger detonator.
He uses his Hoyt compound bow during the night raid on the Vietnamese POW camp to silently dispatch a few NVA guards. The bow is even fitted with a flashlight, which is never used and I always thought was some kind of stabilizer. Later, after Rambo is left behind by his duplicitous CIA handlers and captured by the Soviets and NVA, Co Bao (Nickson) brings him his broken-down bow when she helps him escape.
After Co is killed, Rambo lets loose, stalking and killing the entire party of troops hunting him, killing most of them when he lures them deep into a dry cornfield that he then sets on fire. He destroys a caravan of enemy trucks with the explosive arrows before catching up with Tay (George Cheung), the bad guy who shot Co. After Tay’s AKM runs dry, Rambo stands in the open, knowing that he’s out of range of Tay’s Zastava M57 pistol.
He takes his time, draws his last explosive-tipped arrow from his quiver, nocks it, goes to full draw, and calmly tracks Tay as he scampers over the rocks. When he stops on top of a boulder to take one last, angry, wild pistol shot, Rambo looses his arrow, which hits home and blows Tay into ribbons of flesh and clothing.
Rambo’s form is a bit off — he tends to cant his bow to the side when he shoots, rendering the bow’s pin sights useless — and the explosive arrows are pure fiction, but it’s still awesome as hell and it’s what got me to beg for a bow and arrow when I was 8 years old.
6. The Hunger Games Trilogy (2012-2014): Katniss’ Badass Bow Skills
Directed by: Various
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
Katniss Everdeen and her bow in the Hunger Games movie trilogy did more to make archery popular, especially among young women, than any film before it. Katniss is a general badass, but she’s absolutely deadly when she gets a bow in her hands. In the story, she learns archery from her father, who uses a bow for subsistence hunting in the woods outside District 12. The family keeps the forbidden tool hidden in a hollowed-out log. During the 74th Hunger Games, the bow becomes her weapon of choice while fighting for her life.
In real life, Lawrence was taught how to shoot a recurve bow by five-time Olympian and medalist, Khatuna Lorig, and we can see her influence, especially in Katniss’ under-the-chin anchor point, a favorite for Olympic recurve archers.
Sometimes we see her move her head off the anchor point, or draw beyond it, but in general, her form is excellent and consistent throughout the movies, and you rarely see actors using good anchor points when shooting a bow. She draws really fast, and nocks her arrows inhumanly fast, which is pretty unrealistic. She also tends to wrap her left index finger around the shaft of the arrow, even at full draw, and opens it only as she fires, which isn’t super safe, but it’s a great way to keep the arrow in the rest when you’re jumping all over the place.
In the first movie, when she shoots the apple out of the roasted pig’s mouth to get the attention of the gamemakers, that was pretty awesome, but I really like the archery simulator training scene in Catching Fire when she performs some impressive acrobatics while still maintaining reasonable form and nailing a whole bunch of virtual assailants. If you pay attention, her footing and foot placement in this sequence is spot on.
In the first two movies, she uses a typical recurve bow and regular arrows, but in the two-part third installment, Katniss joins the rebellion and Beetee designs a custom military-grade bow for her that has some kind of electronic or magical component to it. It activates in response to Katniss’ voice and seems to come to life and hum. It comes with some special arrows too, including incendiary and explosive, which are denoted by different-colored shafts. With this bow, Katniss can make accurate shots out to 100 yards and beyond.
5. Hot Shots! Part Deaux (1993): Chicken Arrow
Directed by: Jim Abrahams
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino, Richard Crenna
I love me a good slapstick movie, and when it’s based on an action movie, I’m super on board. While the original Hot Shots poked endless fun at Top Gun, the sequel took aim at action movies in general, and specifically, the second and third Rambo movies, with Charlie Sheen even getting pretty jacked so he didn’t have to wear a Stallone muscle suit for an entire movie like Al Yankovich did that time.
Of course, everything about Rambo is made fun of, from his headband, huge body count, and endless supply of ammunition — and they certainly didn’t forget about his badass bow.
During the infiltration into the prison camp to rescue Topper’s former commanding officer, Col. Denton Walters (played by Richard Crenna, who actually played Col. Trautman in the Rambo movies), Topper (Sheen) attempts to take out a guard with an arrow but misses as the guard turns. This happens like seven times until Topper is out of arrows.
There’s only one option left. As the guard loads his gun (isn’t that always hilarious how bad guys always have to chamber their gun to give the good guy an extra second or two?), Topper picks up a chicken, sets it on his bow, and with utterly perfect form, launches the fowl into the bad guy’s chest. Classic, and something to remember in a survival situation.
The gag even made it to the movie’s poster and into the trailer. But let’s not overlook the “I loved you in Wall Street” scene with Charlie and Martin Sheen along with overlapping voiceovers from Platoon and Apocalypse Now.
4. Robin Hood: Splitting an Arrow
Directed by: Various
It’s probably the most famous archery feat of all time, and it has been depicted over and over, just as the story of Robin Hood has been retold and retold, with various attempts to update it or tweak it for modern movie audiences succeeding or falling flat on their faces.
It’s a simple enough setup. Robin Hood is a legendary archer, and he is proud of that fact, very proud. So Prince John (depending on the movie, there are three characters who are alternately made out as the main villain, Prince John, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, or the Sheriff of Nottingham) holds a big archery contest to crown the best shot in the land, usually with a prize to be bestowed by the Lady Marian — a challenge he knows Robin cannot resist.
As the story goes, Robin enters the contest in disguise and kicks everyone’s ass until his opponent shoots a dead bull’s-eye on the last target, a shot that seemingly can’t be beat, until Robin’s arrow splits the shaft of his opponent’s arrow. Of course, Robin is exposed, taken prisoner, and later aided in his escape by Lady Marian.
The shot is so famous that whenever an arrow splits the shaft of another arrow in a target, it’s called a “Robin Hood,” and is usually followed by much cursing and gnashing of teeth, since arrows are freakin’ expensive.
People can debate which of the 18 Robin Hood movies released over the years depicts the moment best, but the first movie to do it is the version considered the definitive Robin Hood movie by many: the old-school Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn in the role that defined his career (Douglas Fairbanks played Robin in the silent Robin Hood from 1922). This was the first Robin Hood movie to be made with sound and was also one of the first movies ever to be filmed in color.
I grew up with that one, and the 1973 Disney animated version of the story, and later, 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which attempted to bring the character to a new audience after moviegoers finally forgot about the weird middle-aged romance between Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn that was Robin and Marian (1976).
While Kevin Costner’s version of the story omits the archery contest, and Robin’s British accent in favor of whatever the hell Costner is doing for two hours, the arrow-splitting shot is included in a throwaway scene where Robin accomplishes the feat to cap off a training montage, and it’s a bit of a letdown. However, the movie redeems itself a bit during the castle assault at the end when Robin rips a piece of fletching from two arrows with his teeth and fires them both at the same time, one curving right and one left to hit two soldiers charging him. That was cool.
3. Brave (2012): Merida’s Robin Hood Shot
Directed by: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
This is another movie that got lots of young people interested in archery, and one of the best scenes involves the re-creation of a famous archery shot that we are already familiar with.
Set in medieval Scotland, this Pixar movie is, as most Pixar films are, a monument to CG animation. It looks amazing. Princess Merida of the clan Dunbroch is given a bow and arrow by her dad, King Fergus, when she is just 6.
By the time she’s 16, Merida is a free-spirited young woman who isn’t really into being a princess and is not pleased when she’s told, now that she’s of age, she is to be married to one of her father’s allies.
To figure out which one, you guessed it, a contest of skill is held. The chiefs of all the clans, and their firstborn sons, arrive to compete in the Highland games for Merida’s hand, but the clever woman twists the rules a bit and announces that, as her clan’s firstborn, she is eligible to compete for her own hand and avoid marriage.
She tears open the back, armpits, and elbows of her tight gown to give her better range of motion, and proceeds to whip all their asses in an archery contest — hitting two bull’s-eyes on the run before taking careful aim at the third target, which has one of the suitors’ arrows in the center of the bull’s-eye.
That final shot, which is done in glorious Pixar slow motion, is something to behold. Her form is perfect, her anchor point on her cheek is solid, her release is damn near textbook, and nothing moving but her fingers letting go of the string — we can even see the tip of the fletching create a tiny cut on her face as it flies by. We see the flex in the shaft of the arrow as it leaves the bow, something that always makes you wonder how they manage to fly straight at all, and when it hits home, it splits the suitor’s arrow right in two and blasts through the target for a true Robin Hood shot.
2. Rambo (2008): Taking Down Sadistic Soldiers
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden
After a 20-year hiatus, Stallone returned with a fourth Rambo movie that shed most of the series’ ’80s-action-movie tropes in favor of a grittier, more realistic kind of movie. But Rambo still has his bow.
In previous movies, he usually took one shot with his bow from cover before repositioning, or after using an explosive arrow to blow up a helicopter. In this film, Rambo’s archery skills are on full display and we see him fire a rapid succession of arrows for the first time.
After the team of mercenaries Rambo guides into the Burmese jungle discover a massacred village, they take cover when a truck of four soldiers and a bunch of frightened prisoners arrives. They’re there to play a cruel game that we’ve seen before, in the opening scene. The troops toss land mines into the water of a rice paddy and force the prisoners to run back and forth across it, betting on which will trigger a mine.
When the group runs across once and none of the mines go off, the soldiers shout for the prisoners to run back or be shot. The mercs plan to stay hidden so as to not alert the enemy to their position or presence, but Rambo, who has been secretly trailing them since they left his boat, isn’t having it. He appears with his bow, this time a vintage Martin Cougar II, and goes to town, firing broadheads at considerable range with deadly accuracy.
Sly still cants his bow the way he’s been doing it since 1985, but since this bare-bones bow has no sights to speak of, it makes more sense this time around.
He hits the first sadistic soldier in the chest from cover before stepping into view to get angles on the rest. He puts the second one down with a shot through the lungs while he’s running toward the truck. When the third reaches for an AK in the bed of the truck, Rambo puts an arrow through his torso, the broadhead breaking off when it exits his stomach and hits the tailgate. When he doesn’t go down, another arrow enters the back of his head and exits his chin — and that does the trick.
He hits the last soldier in the leg as he’s running, before stepping forward and sending the final arrow squarely through the side of his head — and when the soldier falls, he lands on one of the mines he tossed in the water earlier. While the arrows were CG after they left the bow, it is still one of the most badass archery movie scenes of all time.
1. Deliverance (1972): Bows vs. Bullets
Directed by: John Boorman
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
This classic is famous for a lot of reasons, mostly unsavory ones that have to do with squealing like a pig and rural man rape. But it’s also one of the first movies to shine any kind of light on bowhunting and modern archery as it was in 1972.
The Fred Bear and Bear Archery had a lot to do with it, as they supplied the traditional bows, arrows, and accessories used by Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight on screen. Bear even took Reynolds bowhunting for wild hogs so he could get into the mindset of his character better and learn more than just shooting technique.
The specific bow Lewis (Reynolds) uses in the movie is a Fred Bear Victor Kodiak Take Down bow. Ed (Voight) uses a Bear Kodiak Hunter bow. The actors got even more instruction and advice from the film’s writer, James Dickey, who also played the sheriff in the film and was an experienced bowhunter. While Reynolds and Voight never became bowhunters in real life, they certainly learned enough to look very competent in the movie, even to actual bowhunters.
Just after the infamous rape scene, as Ed is about to have his “pretty mouth” violated, Lewis puts a broadhead through the heart of the one with the most teeth, though it takes him a good bit to die leaning against a small tree.
Closer to the end of the film, when Ed is the only able-bodied member of the canoeing group left, he faces off with the other rapist, who is now armed with a lever gun. Ed hesitates in taking a shot at a human being with his bow, and only fires his shaking arrow when the man shoots at him. The bullet hits a rock near his head and causes him to fall, impaling his side with the last arrow in the quiver mounted on his bow. We think it’s all over for Ed, as the man slowly approaches with his rifle, but we see Ed won out as the man falls forward and reveals an arrow buried to the fletching in his throat.